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Why is decaf more expensive than regular coffee?

So many people ask the question, " Why is decaf more expensive than regular coffee?"

In cafes, there is often an extra charge for decaf and, judging by twitter and coffee forums, consumers aren't happy about this and they often tweet to cafes complaining about why decaf coffee is more expensive.

Little do they know that decaf is often part subsidised by the cafes and, more often than not, the cafes should charge even more for decaffeinated coffee, but try to soften the blow by absorbing some of the cost.

So, why is decaf coffee expensive than regular?

The simple answer is that decaf is more expensive to produce than regular coffee and travels longer.

With regular coffee, the process is simpler and the journey shorter...

Regular coffee is grown, processed and shipped to the continent where it will be roasted and consumed.

In contrast, decaffeinated coffee starts out as regular coffee and is grown, processed and then shipped to the country where the decaffeination process takes place.

Decaffeination happens on a huge scale for the economies of scale to work and often needs to be shipped from one continent to another continent to be decaffeinated and then shipped on to the continent that is actually consuming the coffee.

An example is with the Swiss Water Decaf process:

  • A Colombian Arabica coffee bean is grown and processed in Colombia
  • The Colombian coffee bean is shipped from Colombia all the way up to Vancouver in Canada where the Swiss Water Process decaffeination plant is located.
  • The Colombian coffee is decaffeinated using the Swiss Water Process.
  • The Colombian Swiss Water Decaf coffee is then shipped on to the continent where it is to be consumed
  • That Colombian decaffeinated coffee is then roasted and shipped to the cafe where it's brewed and enjoyed by you - the consumer.

So, there are two big additional costs here to consider

- The extra international shipping costs

- More importantly, the decaffeination process, which is complex and expensive to produce.

Which decaffeination process is the most expensive to produce?

The main decaffeination processes are:

  • Methylene Chloride Decaf Coffee Process

The least expensive decaffeination process, the Methylene Chloride Decaf Process is decaffeinated to a 96-97% caffeine free level and is a process whereby a solvent called Methylene Chloride is used to remove the caffeine from coffee beans.

  • The Ethyl Acetate Decaf Coffee Process

The more expensive of the solvent methods, and seen as more natural than Methylene Chloride decaffeination because it can use byproducts from sugar cane processing, also to a 96-97% caffeine free level, the process uses Ethyl Acetate as a solvent, to remove the caffeine from coffee beans.

  • The CO2 "Sparkling Water" Decaf Coffee Process

In the middle-range in terms of costs, the CO2 Decaf Process caffeine content is not clear - we cannot find information on how much caffeine is in CO2 Process decaffeinated coffee.  Often called the "sparkling water" process, it uses CO2 to remove caffeine from green coffee beans instead of a chemical solvent.

  • The Swiss Water Decaf Coffee Process

The most expensive and premium process is  the Swiss Water Decaf Process, which is certified 99.9% caffeine free and uses only water (no chemicals) to decaffeinate the beans from its processing facility near Vancouver in Canada.

Final thoughts:

- Decaffeinated coffee is one of life's little miracles and it's expensive to produce.

- Sadly, because decaffeinated coffee is expensive to produce, roasters and cafes often use cheaper grades using lower quality green coffee and inferior cheaper decaffeination processes.

- The result is often poor quality tasting decaffeinated coffees.

- Good decaffeinated coffee is more expensive to produce, so if you want to drink good decaf, be prepared to pay more for it.

 

1 comment

sept. 14, 2020 • Posted by Alejandro que

Great post but you forgot to mention the Ethyl Acetate (EA) process. One of the best plants that uses this process is located in Manizales, Colombia. Not only it is efficient in terms of costs (at least for Colombian coffee), but also the EA is derived naturally from sugar cane AND, if you use great coffee, can taste delicious. We have been using this method for over a decade and the results have been amazing.


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